Created By: Ithaca Heritage
This mural was designed and painted in 2015 by Khalil Bey, a local author, actor, social activist, and a formerly incarcerated community member, with assistance from Caleb Thomas, Iago Lopez, Tru Milton, Rashid Brown, N. Cox, David, and J. Stooks. The Alex Haley Municipal Pool is a public pool run by the Greater Ithaca Activity Center (GIAC) across the street. The mural highlights a number of Haley’s works, including: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Mama Flora’s Family, Roots, and Queen: The Story of an American Family.
Alex Haley was born only a few blocks away from this mural at 212 Cascadilla Street on August 11, 1921. Haley’s father, Simon Alexander Haley, was completing a master’s degree in agriculture at Cornell University at the time, and Haley's mother, Bertha Palmer Haley, was attending the Ithaca Conservatory of Music (renamed Ithaca College in 1932). The family left Ithaca a few weeks after Haley was born, and he spent the early years of his life in Tennessee.
Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 as a “co-author” following the assassination of Malcolm X in February of that year. The book is based on a series of in-depth interviews Haley conducted with Malcolm X between 1963 and 1965. Haley’s 1976 book, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1977 and was the basis for the hugely popular television mini-series Roots, which explored the history of the African-American experience. The series finale had over 100 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched single episode in U.S. television history. The series was nominated for 37 Emmy awards and won 9.
Haley also wrote for Playboy, interviewing cultural giants of the 20th century like Miles Davis, Johnny Carson, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King Jr. King’s interview with Haley was the longest interview the civil rights leader granted to any publication in his lifetime.
Although Haley only spent six weeks of his early life in Ithaca, he stayed in touch with several Ithacans and contributed to a scholarship fund given in the name of Cornell Black alumni.
In 1993, a year after his death, the Alex Haley Memorial Project raised funds to create a memorial pocket park at his birthplace on Cascadilla Street, planting a silver maple there on what would have been his 71st birthday—August 11,1993. The silver maple is a direct descendant of the silver maple which shaded Haley’s grandmother’s porch in Tennessee when she taught him about his African ancestry. A carved granite marker and a handwrought iron bench, comprised of individual iron leaves made by community members with the assistance of local blacksmith Durand Van Doren, were also installed in the park. A New York Historical Marker funded by the Pomeroy Foundation was placed outside his birthplace in August of 2020.
This point of interest is part of the tour: History & Art - Driving Tour of Tompkins County